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In Due Course

Genomics is just picking up steam, the Broad Institute's Eric Lander tells The Atlantic. As a comparison, Lander notes that it took some 75 years to go from understanding that microbes cause infectious diseases to the widespread implementation of antibiotics to treat those diseases. "With genomics, we're maybe halfway through that cycle — something like the situation around 1915, when early, highly imperfect antibiotics were first introduced," he says.

Currently, genomics is working on getting a sort of parts list together for what genes are involved in certain diseases and how those genes interact in networks. While Lander says that this is not a cure for any disease, having such knowledge is influencing treatment, though it is still early days there too.

New targeted drugs for cancer, he tells The Atlantic, have been able to make certain tumors disappear, though as the tumors mutate, they find a way to recur. But now, he says, researchers can target those new mutations as well and take a lesson from how HIV has been treated to turn it into a chronic disease.

"What made it become a chronic, treatable disease? It was a combination of three drugs. Any one of those drugs alone, the virus could mutate its way around," Lander says. "But with the combination of all three, the chance that a virus could find its way around all of them was vanishingly small. That's what's going to be happening in cancer." He adds, though, that it will take time and investment.